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Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

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Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Variegated Silverberry

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Variegated silverberries are common where they are solidly hardy.  With such eye-popping foliage, they are tempting, indeed.  Too tempting: The shrubs show up in parking lot islands and along highways.  But planted where they are less of a sure thing, variegates such as this one, 'Eleador', are a thrill.

 

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With their puzzling tan color speckled with brown scales, the young leaves seem a different plant entirely.

 

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I hope to establish two variegated silverberries.  'Eleador' is on the left.  'Gilt Edge' is a bit more compact, with smaller leaves that are green in the center.  See "How to handle it: Another option—or two!" for suggestions on establishing 'Eleador' and 'Gilt Edge' north of their usual haunts.

 

 

Here's how to grow this extraordinarily colorful shrub:

 

Latin name

Elaeagnus x ebbingei 'Eleador'

Common name

Variegated silverberry

Family

Elaeagnaceae, the Silverberry family.

What kind of plant is it

Broadleaf evergreen shrub.

Hardiness

Zones 7 - 9; Zone 6 if well-sited.  See "How to handle it" below.

Habit

Many-branched, as broad as high. 

Rate of growth

Fast.

Size in ten years

Eight to ten feet high and wide.

Texture

Full.  The variegation is so vivid, and the leaves comparatively large—up to four inches—that the plant can look somewhat artificial.

Grown for

its foliage:  The pointed shiny leaves have a wavy edge, and are largely given over to bright greenish-yellow interior, with only an irregular edge of light green and, at the perimeter, a thin margin of darker green.  Young foliage is, somewhat disconcertingly, brown and tan; on first experience of the shrub, it might appear to be unhealthy.  At closer range, the darker brown scales that pepper the young leaves become visible.  Except at the coldest portion of its hardiness range, where the shrub can be semi-evergreen and the persisting foliage can show considerable Winter damage, the leaves of 'Eleador' remain colorful and in good condition year-round. 

 

its flowers:  Small and white, they are mostly hidden amid the foliage.  Their sweet fragrance is so penetrating that garden visitors need to follow their noses to track down its origin.

Flowering season

October into November, when any shrub in bloom is a welcome surprise.  Elaeagnus x ebbingei is in flower the same time asOsmanthus, whose blossoms are similarly fragrant and tiny.

Color combinations

The small white flowers and tan young foliage may not provide much inspiration for color harmonies, but the bright foliage goes with any shade of yellow or green, palest to darkest.  White, blue, burgundy, and red are other options.  Even pink is possible, especially via pink flowers whose pistil or stamens are prominent and greenish-yellow.

Partner plants

Although most colors combine with the foliage of 'Eleador', unless those colors are provided via growth or flowers of partner plants that are  strongly contrasting in size, habit, or texture, the whole display can look like a cartoon, or a plastic-plant display around an indoor swimming pool in Fargo. 

 

Choose partners whose foliage is much smaller, or is ferny or grassy, such as any conifer of compatible coloring, from the inky-dark of yews to the pale-yellow new growth of Cryptomeria japonica 'Sekkan Sugi', or  broadleaved evergreens with small and rounded leaves, such as Buxus or Ilex crenata.  Avoid broadleaves with variegated foliage, which couldn't compete with the flamboyance and size of 'Eleador'.  Deciduous shrubs and trees are opportunities for foliage that's both ferny and colorful. The feathery foliage of Acer palmatum cultivars can be yellow, green, burgundy, pink, or orange; 'Eleador' will grow as readily in the dappled shade of the larger cultivars as it will in full sun with one of the dwarf cultivars at its feet.  The dense foliage of Fargesia bamboo is narrow and light green, and its habit is (eventually) fountain-like; on both counts, it's a great counterpart to 'Eleador'.

 

If any palms are hardy where you garden, their foliage is a dramatic contrast.  I'm hoping to establish Sabal minor near another Elaeagnus x ebbingei cultivar, 'Gilt Edge'.   

 

Because 'Eleador' is comfortable in a fair amount of shade, it could host smaller-scale vining or scandent partner plants without being shaded out by their growth.  The feathery and solid-gold leaves of Jasminum 'Fiona Sunrise' would take bright foliage as far as it can go.  Small-flowered clematis, from cultivars of Spring-blooming Clematis alpina and C. macropetala to later-season C. viticella, are another opportunity.  Unlike those with dinner-plate blooms, the flowers are small enough to avoid setting off a cartoon alarm.  The stamens and pistil of the Clematis flowers are often just the yellow-green that echoes the coloring of the 'Eleador' leaves.  Some clematis flowers mature to fluffy parchment-pale spiralling seed heads that are a show of texture and color both.   

Where to use it in your garden

Elaeagnus x ebbingei 'Eleador' is a large shrub, whose quick growth would be difficult to hold to a smaller size.  Unless you enjoy having to prune a shrub for no other reason that it's getting too large for its site, plant where the shrub can grow to full size.  The bright foliage makes the shrub very focal, so plant it where such regular visual inspection is desirable.  Although the shrub is dense and large, and so could easily function as screening, its vivid variegation would attract just the close visits that would reveal just what you were attempting to screen.  

Culture

Elaeagnus is nothing if not flexible, tolerating shade as well as sun, salt spray and pollution, and poor soil.  Growth is fastest and fullest in sun.

How to handle it: The Basics

Plant in Spring.  Elaeagnus welcomes but doesn't require good soil; it fixes nitrogen.  The shrub grows so quickly that there's no need to buy larger sizes—but because your starter plant will be so much smaller than the mature shrub, it can be difficult to allow the necessary room.  If possible, plant the shrub amid an expanse of groundcover that extends outward even farther than the shrub will be at full size.  If you don't have room for that much groundcover, you don't have room for 'Eleador', either.  

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

'Eleador' can also be grown as a hedge, but will require routine pruning if you want your hedge to be narrower than the free-range width of eight to ten feet.  In Zone 8 and 9, prune almost any time you have the urge or need.  In Zone 7 and colder, prune in Spring, to control size as well as remove any Winter-killed stem tips or foliage.  Prune again, as needed, in June.  Try not to prune a third time until after flowering.  The flowers are on old growth, not the new growth you'd be pruning.  But by delaying your pruning until later in Fall, you ensure that new growth isn't spurred that very same season.  It wouldn't be hardy enough to withstand the imminent Winter.  Hedges of Elaeagnus that are pruned in late Fall retain their crisp outline through the Winter. 

 

Elaeagnus x ebbingei needs careful siting to succeed in Zone 6.  As usual, good drainage is a help, as is siting where the shrub isn't in the path of unobstructed Winter wind.  I'm planting mine at the base of an espaliered Cryptomeria, in a garden that faces south.  The garden is flanked at the east and west by high yew hedges and at the front by a hedge of American holly that is, itself, fronted by an espalier of linden.  The garden is as still as any can be that isn't inside a conservatory.  I'll also experiment with weaving the Elaeagnus growth up through the horizontal arms of the Cryptomeria.  That support should enable the 'Eleador' branches to grow higher than normal, while soft and densely-branched growth also muffles each branch.

Any quirks or special cases?

Hedges of plants with foliage as large as Elaeagnus shouldn't be pruned with power trimmers, which will slice through individual leaves to create a pruned surface studded with semi-sliced foliage.  Prune by hand, stem by stem, branch by branch.

 

Prune away any stems that have all-green leaves as soon as you can.  They grow faster than branches with variegated leaves, and could eventually overgrow them.  Keep in mind that juvenile foliage doesn't show variegation; growth needs to be old enough to show mature foliage before reversion can be confirmed.

Downsides

'Eleador' can revert to all-green growth.  See "How to handle it" above.

Variants

The foliage of 'Gilt Edge' is variegated in the reverse of that of 'Eleador': green in the center and gold at the edge.  The leaves of 'Lemon Ice' are pale yellow in the center; those of 'Limelight', from which it sported, tend towards gold.

Availability

On-line and, where solidly hardy,at retailers. 

Propagation

By cuttings.  

Native habitat

Elaeagnus x ebbingei is thought to be a hybrid of E. macrophylla, native to Korea, and E. pungens, native to Japan.  'Eleador' originated in France.

 
 
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